“Why are you so afraid?” the rabbis seem to ask Jacob regarding this week’s parsha. “Sure, the brother whom you screwed out of both blessing and birthright now leads an army of 400 men to meet you after decades of estrangement. That sounds admittedly awful. But God has promised multiple times to protect you! Isn’t that enough? Aren’t you a person of faith?”
“You’re missing the point,” Rabbi Judah bar Ilai explains. “Jacob fears more than the harm that may come to him. He fears the harm he may have to inflict as well. He fears both dying and being forced to kill” (Genesis Rabbah 76:2).
In divisive times like ours, we too may be afraid. Afraid of what others might do. And afraid of what we might do in kind. The Torah knows our fear.
Perhaps that is why some hope lingers that our story may end the way Jacob and Esau’s did. That siblings divided might come together not to battle, but to reconcile. With a warm embrace and tears flowing.
Rabbi Brandon Bernstein is the campus rabbi for Fiedler Hillel at Northwestern University.